The portrait vessel, which depicts a slightly upturned and grimacing face of a black African male, is much larger than other examples and has received extensive restoration treatments. The vessel is 30 cm tall and 11.7 cm in diameter at the base. Plaster fill has been used to recreate large areas of the right side of head and hair, less extensive repair has also been done on the forehead, lip, chin, and left eye. According to his entry in Ten Centuries, Herbert Hoffman knew of no parallel for the vessel’s size and green, lead-based glaze (1970, 448–50). As an example, Hoffman cites a red glaze portrait vessel or “jug” that depicts the portrait of a black African in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s (MMA) collection (accession #17.194.859; LINK). In addition to the red glaze, the form of the MMA’s vessel is very different. There is no neck, and the vessel rests on the on the portrait’s chin. Another vessel in the MMA’s collection presents parallels in the mouth or spout and green, lead glaze (accession #45.11.6; LINK). According to the MMA’s object entry, the lead glaze suggests an attribution to workshop at Tarsus in southeast Asia Minor; however, much of the ceramic production was focused on drinking vessels, not pouring vessels as in the Menil and MMA’s lead glaze specimens. The MMA’ entry cites Hochuli-Gysel (1977, 171) as a reference for the lead glaze.
Snowden follows Hoffman’s entry for CA 6920 in Ten Centuries closely when we writes: “Other heads, no less interesting than the foregoing, were made for practical uses, like the unusually large head vase in Houston, said to be from Asia Minor and dating from the second or third century: beneath the lustrous green glaze the ceramicist skillfully rendered the amused expression of his subject” (2010 , 242).
The Menil collection possesses similar but smaller portrait vessels depicting a black African (for example: CA 6714 and CA 6715, which measure 15 cm and 13 cm, respectively).
Portrait cups in glass depicting black Africans are common (see Snowden 1970, xvii and 83 ill. 59). This cup is in the MMA’s collection (accession #81.10.226).
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